Whatever you do, *don't* think of "strong and stable". Oops. (Neuroscience below.)

Excellent tour by Steven Poole of the mind sciences that lurk behind the near-robotic repetition of "strong and stable leadership/government" vs "coalition of chaos" in the Tories #GE2017 electoral rhetoric. An extract:

The art of political persuasion, however, seems to be heading down an ever more carefully managed path. Both Price and Klemperer argue that successful slogans work at an “unconscious” or “subconscious” level, with an animal or emotional appeal. This has been understood by successful propagandists for a very long time, but campaign strategists are now bolstered in their confidence by recent work at the interface of neuroscience and political psychology.

The US psychologist Drew Westen and others, for example, have done experiments that suggest what prevails in the average citizen’s political thinking is “emotion-biased motivated reasoning”. Motivated reasoning is the term of art for a style of thinking in which the brain makes judgments that minimise bad feelings and maximise good feelings in relation to threats to its own desires.

In Westen’s 2007 book The Political Brain he concluded: “The political brain is an emotional brain”, and recommended that strategists take note: in particular, Westen recommended, Democrats should abandon rational policy appeals and go straight for the gut. One reader who was inspired by all this, on his own admission, was Teresa May’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby himself.

The phrase “strong and stable” obeys this model perfectly: it is an emotional appeal to calm and orderliness, while “coalition of chaos” aims to inspire fear of an imagined alternative. But to focus exclusively on emotional appeals is to play with fire. The rhetorical tradition has long pointed out that successful arguments employ both emotional and rational aspects.

The importance of emotion does not imply that rationality makes literally zero contribution to people’s decisions. Yet the people who advise on campaigns seem close to believing just that. Which may lead a sceptic to conclude that political strategists are being inspired by dubious popular science to abandon any pretence at rational argument at all, and thus permanently lobotomise electoral democracy itself.